The question, “how often should I do yoga?” is one that many yoga-lovers face, particularly if they're coming from another athletic disciplines that dictates a rigid workout or practice schedule. As I’ve attempted to answer this question for myself over the years, I’ve noticed two things:
1. Yogi’s often struggle communicating the ideal frequency of practice because there are a lot of dependent factors involved;
2. Despite this complexity, there is an answer.
Here, I’ll try to explain by giving first a short, then a long (or at least longer) explanation.
The short answer: every day.
As you’re most likely aware, yoga is more than a physical practice. It has multiple aspects in addition to physical postures (asana) including meditation (dhyana) and breath (pranayama). These are sorted into eight categories called the Eight Limbs of Yoga. One of these limbs (Yama) even provides ethical principles for living such as non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), and non-stealing (asteya). These can and should be practiced every day to truly embrace the yoga ethos.
Now you may be saying, “yeah, yeah, but you know I’m talking about the physical practice Kyle!” Fair enough. So here's the longer answer.
The long answer: You should base your practice on either the frequency that matches your lifestyle and goals, or however often your body allows as you work towards practicing every day...or every day.
Let’s start with the first bit [the frequency that matches your lifestyle and goals]. A yoga asana practice can take many forms, as can its benefits. My dad, who grew up in India, practices intermittently, in short-sessions while doing exercises that I personally wouldn’t have recognized as yoga without explanation (think eye movements, quick shoulder shrugs, etc.). This is beneficial to him, and it is, indeed, yoga. Doing a vinyasa-based practice once a week to supplement another athletic discipline is also beneficial. Maintaining a daily practice, while being aware of sensations in the body that may indicate overuse, is also beneficial. If you have a good understanding of your body, your lifestyle, and your personal goals, then your ideal frequency of practice will likely become clear to you. Ultimately, there is no right answer. It depends on your body.
However, if you want yoga to be your primary physical discipline and your goals are mainly focused on deepening your practice, then working toward a daily practice may be of interest to you. That being said, mobility in the joints and connective tissues (as well as flexibility, and to a lesser degree, strength) takes a long time to build up. Therefore, it's important to slowly build up your frequency of practice. The goal here is to progressively strain your body enough for it to adapt without causing injury. This basically means your ability to practice every day is going to be based on the level of work your body is accustomed to.
So if you can’t do it unless you're used to it, but you can’t get used to it without doing it, what do you do? Simple: take. your. time. Even having come out of other intense athletic practices, it took me (at least) a year to build up the self-awareness and knowledge that allowed for a sustainable daily yoga practice.
If daily yoga is is your goal, then be sure to keep the following in mind:
Understand that variety is the spice of life. Not all days should be strength days. Just as in weight lifting or any other physical activity, shifting focus from practice to practice will allow for appropriate rest and more holistic development. Restorative yoga provides some of the best active rest out there. Meditation can also be substituted for an asana practice (for those of you checking boxes, it still counts!) Similarly, different practices and types of yoga can benefit different parts of the body, allowing other parts to take a break. You can even explore yoga nidra (yogic sleep) on tired days for a deeper rest. In short, practicing every day can be great, as long as there is variety in the practice and it’s not all intensely athletic or overly-focused on specific muscle groups. If you’d like to learn more about how to best sequence a yoga practice for your goals, check out our sequencing guide.
Be aware of your limitations and sensations. Awareness is crucial to understand when you’re pushing yourself too far. Humility is crucial to understand that when that occurs, it’s ok (and necessary) to stop. When you notice the potential for excessive fatigue or injury, it's far better to take a few days of rest than being forced to take a month of recovery after an injury occurs.
Cycle in "off-weeks" and reevaluate habits regularly. Even if things are going well, it's always good to give your body a full rest every month or two – whether that takes a few days or a week. When we practice asana, we’re constantly damaging our muscles so that they can recover stronger and more flexible. However, this damage accumulates if our body isn't given sufficient time to heal, which will eventually lead to injury. This makes periodic rest essential. Additionally, it means that we should frequently ask ourselves if our practice is too intense or too light, and adapt accordingly.
If you’re willing and able to make the commitment in time and energy to daily practice (in some form), it can dramatically change your experience of yoga. With this higher level of frequency, the mental calm and clarity that's cultivated on the mat will more easily carry over into the rest of your life. However, remember that this must be approached from a place kindness towards yourself, and awareness of your body. Don't let ambition push you beyond your limits. Furthermore, remember that yoga doesn't always need to be an intense physical experience. It can also be restorative, relaxing, and restful.
The good news is, that whatever frequency of practice you choose – you chose right. As long as you remain safe, realistic, and positive, you'll finding joy in whichever path you take.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This article is based on my personal experience and should not be taken as medical advice. Information on this website is not meant to replace the advice of a doctor or other trained medical expert. It is not to be used to cure, treat, diagnose or prevent any disease, illness or condition. Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.